Ed note: The woman who shared this story asked that it be shared anonymously.
The week after my thirty-first birthday, I developed an infection in my left lung and ear. At the time, I was working for the largest medical system in the state of South Carolina. I’ve had asthma and allergies since age three, so lung and ear infections are nothing new for me.
After five days of antibiotics and steroids, I was no better. A coworker took me to the ER, which was directly across the street from my office at the time. There, I was diagnosed with pleurisy, which was the worst Christmas present I have ever received. I was given cough and pain medicine so the inflammation in my chest would heal, but I was not given an NSAID. I was told to stay out of work for the next week (and then we were closed for Christmas).
The cough syrup masked my symptoms until the New Year, when the pain in my ear and chest was causing me to just stare at a wall in my apartment and sob. I went to my pulmonologist, desperate for anything that would drain my ear and my chest. My pulmonologist was an older gentleman who accused me of hyperventilating. I explained that I was hyperventilating due to the fact that whenever I took a deep breath, I felt like my lung was being stabbed with a butcher knife. He believed I was having a psychotic break and asked about my living situation. Horror of horrors, I was a woman who lived alone with my cat for company. He told me there was nothing he could do to help me but that I clearly needed a therapist. He also didn’t bother to examine my ear, even after I complained of the pain.
The next day, I went to see my PCP. He finally prescribed prescription grade ibuprofen for my chest inflammation, and when he examined my ear, it was full of yellow pus. I was given another round of stronger antibiotics. Unfortunately, as soon as that round of antibiotics ended, my ear filled back up. I went back to the PCP, and I was told that “a little fluid” in my eardrum was no big deal.
By this time, I was at my limit. Constant ear pain was making me a nightmare of a human being. I drove five hours to my ENT in North Carolina. It should be noted that my ENT is one of the good ones. He immediately checked my ear and discovered that my eardrum had ruptured and bled, due to the untreated infection. He told me it would heal in time but that until it did, I was at risk for more infection. I had three ear infections in the next three months.
I’m currently writing my master’s thesis about misogyny in politics, so misogyny in medicine is of great interest to me. I’ve also had what is now years of autoimmune symptoms, and I’m finally being taken seriously because I finally have more visible symptoms. My hope is the belief that women are hysterical dies with our generation and is never resurrected.